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Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21 “Blackjacks”


The World Famous BLACKJACKS of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron TWO ONE (HSC-21) first commissioned on April 1, 2005 at Naval Air Station North Island, Coronado, California. The BLACKJACKS ushered in a new chapter for the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE). After the Navy Helicopter Master Plan directed consolidation of Helicopter Anti-Submarine (HS) squadrons flying the HH-60H/SH-60F “Seahawk” and Helicopter Combat Support (HC) squadrons flying the CH-46D “Sea Knight,” the reimagined Helicopter Sea Combat community began training on the MH-60S Block 1 Seahawk to support Search and Rescue, Fleet logistics, and special operation warfare support.

The MH-60S represents a maritime retrofit of the combat-proven U.S. Army UH-60L Blackhawk. The increased cabin space and dual-side cabin doors made the aircraft ideal for maneuverable, multi-mission medium-lift. Colloquially known as the “Knighthawk,” this is a nod to the duality of HSC’s history. While both HC and HS transitioned to HSC and flew the MH-60S after the H-46 decommissioned in June, 2004, the BLACKJACKS represent the continued legacy of the HC-11 GUNBEARERS.

The expeditionary force structure of HSC-21 assigns its 50 Naval Aviators, 50 Naval Aircrewmen, 300 maintainers, 45 support personnel, fifteen MH-60S “Seahawk” manned helicopters, and 3 MQ-8C “Firescout” unmanned helicopters into multi-mission, one to three aircraft detachments. These expeditionary detachments deploy both afloat and ashore with an Officer-in-Charge who administratively reports back to the HSC-21 Commanding Officer residing at NAS North Island.

In September, 2005, four months after standing up as an operational squadron, HSC-21 sent aircraft and personnel to support evacuation and relief efforts during Defense Support of Civil Authority (DSCA) actions following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana.

In the early War on Terror, the MH-60S proved a capable overland Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) and logistics platform. In 2006, the BLACKJACKS sent their first land-based Naval Air Ambulance Detachments (NAAD) to U.S. Army Central Command in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. 

Starting in 2008, the Navy began outfitting the MH-60S with Armed Helicopter Weapons Systems. These modifications, including AGM-114 HELLFIRE missiles, a Multi-Spectral Targeting System, and defensive electronic countermeasures on MH-60S Block 3A aircraft improved survivability and lethality of the platform for Surface Warfare and Combat Search and Rescue operations.

In 2009-2010, the BLACKJACKS sent four land-based Naval Air Ambulance Detachments (NAAD) to U.S. Army Central Command in support of OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM. Additionally in 2010, HSC-21 embarked one detachment on USNS BRIDGE (T-AOE 10) to provide logistics support in THIRD, FIFTH, and SEVENTH FLEET.

In 2011, the BLACKJACKS continued to source four-aircraft NAAD detachments at Udari Army Airfield, Kuwait. The detachments executed 234 combat support missions to aid the 2515th NAAD in Basrah, Iraq.

In 2012, HSC-21 deployed three four-aircraft NAAD detachments to support OPERATION NEW DAWN, humanitarian assistance while embarked on USNS MERCY (T-AH 19) during PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP 2012, and a four-aircraft detachment on USS PELELIEU (LHA 5) with JTF G-20 to provide Special Operations lift Quick Reaction Force for White House security detail. 

After the NAAD dissolved in 2012, following seven years of continuous CENTCOM support, the BLACKJACKS returned to maritime operations in the Indo-Pacific. In 2014, HSC-21 detachments deployed on USS BOXER (LHD 4), USS PELELIEU (LHA 5) and participated in RIMPAC 2012. Additionally, the BLACKJACKS deployed two aircraft on USS AMERICA (LHA 6) in support of Task Force 49 in SOUTHCOM. Maintaining proficiency in Special Operations assault support, the BLACKJACKS conducted joint training with British SAS and Canadians Special Forces.

In 2015, the BLACKJACKS again participated in PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP while embarked on USNS MERCY. While executing Humanitarian Operations in the Western Pacific, the BLACKJACKS conducted 7 MEDEVACS and rescued 5 stranded individuals from a remote Indonesian island.

2016 marked an operational shift for the BLACKJACKS and greater HSC. Historically, the HC and expeditionary HSC squadrons had deployed two-aircraft Amphibious Search and Rescue detachments with Amphibious Ready Groups/Marine Expeditionary Units (ARG/MEU). To provide Defense of the Amphibious Task Force (DATF), Expeditionary Strike Groups began deploying three-aircraft Armed Helicopter detachments embarked on the LHD “helicopter carriers.” In 2016, HSC-21 sourced the first three-aircraft HSC detachment armed with AGM-114 and the GAU-21 .50 caliber crew served door guns.

By 2017, the BLACKJACKS had validated the invaluable force multiplying power of close-in ship defense with armed helicopters during restricted waters transits. Deployed with the MAKIN ISLAND ARG/MEU, HSC-21 provided anti-surface warfare (ASUW) capability during Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Malacca transits enroute to the Arabian Gulf to support OPERATION INHERENT RESOLVE. The BLACKJACKS also deployed to Okinawa, Japan where a Special Operations-trained detachment stood alert for INDOPACOM tasking with the U.S. Air Force 353rd Special Operations Group. Stateside, the BLACKJACKS executed DSCA in Houston, Texas. Based out of Texas College Station, HSC-21 delivered 40,000 lbs of food and water to civilians cut off by rising flood waters.

At the close of 2017, HSC-21 participated in the first Manned/Unmanned-Teaming (MUM-T) at an Air Wing Fallon Exercise when HSC-21 DET 3 (HSC-21.3) operated three MQ-8B UAS in conjunction with Carrier Airwing ONE (CVW-1). HSC-21.3 provided ISR for SOF and Strike missions and demonstrated proof of concept for future manned/unmanned CVW integration. 

2018 marked several “firsts” for the squadron. In January, HSC-21.3 travelled to NAS Point Mugu for initial MQ-8B testing of the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) system. Following the successful demonstration, HSC-21.3 embarked on USS Coronado (LCS 4) for developmental and operational testing of the COBRA system, the first manned/unmanned HSC-21 integration with a Littoral Combat Ship, and the first time HSC-21 operated an MQ-8B in the shipboard environment. HSC-21.3 also flew Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) missions during RIMPAC 2018, unveiling the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) in a large force exercise. 

In 2019, HSC-21 DET 1 deployed with the BOXER ARG/MEU and participated in OPERATION EAGER LION, Exercise TIGER STRIKE, FLEET BATTLE PROBLEM 30, and KUWAITI SUTEX. HSC-21 DET 2 deployed shortly thereafter with the ESSEX ARG/MEU supporting OPERATION FREEDOM SENTINEL and EXERCISE IRON MAGIC.

2019 also yielded the first Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM) detachment for the BLACKJACKS. DET 5 and 6 deployed with the new Airborne Mine Neutralization system, Airborne Laser Mine Detection system, and unmanned MQ-8B. The BLACKJACKS would prove essential to charting the path forward for the Commander, Naval Air Forces plan to transition aviation’s Mine Warfare (MIW) subject matter expertise from the disestablishing Helicopter Mine Countermeasures (HM) community to HSC.

In 2021, the BLACKJACKS fielded the first HSC AMCM Commander during RIMPAC 2021, demonstrated the first operational-squadron live sea mine neutralization with AMNS, and the NAE’s first integrated AMCM and Manned/Unmanned-Teaming (MUM-T) LCS Aviation Detachments. The squadron continued to enhance HSC Mine Warfare lethality by pursuing expeditionary MCM (EXMCM) integration with helicopter employment of the MK-18 Unmanned Underwater Vehicle for mine countermeasures. The BLACKJACKS also deployed detachments to the MAKIN ISLAND ARG/MEU, USS ESSEX (LHD 2), USS TULSA (LCS 16), and USS CHARLESTON (LCS 18).

In 2023, HSC-21 DET 2 deployed with the MAKIN ISLAND ARG/MEU and HSC-21 DET 5 and DET 9 MUM-T detachments embarked on USS MANCHESTER (LCS 16) and USS CHARLESTON, respectively. DET 2 flew combat support missions during Exercise COBRA GOLD in Thailand, Exercise SSANG YONG in the Republic of Korea, Exercise BALIKATAN in the Philippines, and Expeditionary Strike Force proof of concept Combat Search and Rescue training with the NIMITZ CARRIER STRIKE GROUP. DET 5 participated in Exercise PACIFIC GRIFFIN, Exercise KOMODO, and the Oceania Maritime Security Initiative. Det 5 also earned the record for greatest distance flown by an MQ-8C.

In 2023, the BLACKJACKS continued to demonstrate unmanned integration of the MQ-8C into joint operations. During USMC Service Level Training Exercise, HSC-21’s MQ-8C provided critical Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, directed simulated Naval Surface Fire Support, executed Aviation Delivered Ground Refuel from an MV-22B, and showcased the capability of the Firescout to act as a Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance and Rescue Mission Commander platform.


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